Women in uniform

  • Sharebar

Women’s participation in the military in Nepal is an issue waiting intense debate both on conceptual and policy levels. The issue remains untouched by historians or experts on security. Women themselves have neither tried to make it an issue of national importance, nor have they realised the necessity of mainstreaming it through their ongoing social and women-related movements. This is due to the newness of the area and the lack of access to basic information on the subject. The available literature on Nepal’s military service deals only with the image of ‘model soldiers,’ as if it were an area only concerned with men. However, women have been working in uniform for decades in Nepal. It is now the appropriate time to initiate a debate on the role and responsibilities of women in the military in Nepal through different perspectives.

Women in the military is a subject dependent on the socio-political order of the state institutions that inculcate individuals with sets of norms, values and attitudes. The experiences of armies around the world show that social attitudes favouring greater gender equality provide an impetus for not only opening opportunities to women in the military but also expanding their roles in the institution. Empowering women to the extent that they are able to demarcate their rights and duties as citizens is equally responsible for getting and duly carrying out such roles. Opportunity granted in the army is an acceptance of women’s status as citizens with the responsibility as well as the capacity to safeguard the country’s interests.

Right now, women in the military are mostly employed for combat support, which is a subordinating role at best. In addition, the performance evaluation system has been developed on the preferential basis of masculine character and efficiency, which discourages recruitment and promotion of women in combat positions. This is the reason no woman occupies high positions in Nepal Army. Nor did they occupy any post of note in the Maoist “liberation” forces during the insurgency, even though women were recruited in large numbers. Such a discouraging scenario creates the vicious cycle of inferiority, mentale fatigue and frustration for women. In addition, male officers neither consult women on policy-level decisions, nor do they take the idea of female officers seriously, believing as they do that women have poor knowledge about combat policy and performance. This was proven by the controversial retirement of two senior female officers of Nepal Army in July and no record of women as the chief of army staff in any military in the world. The provision of “equal opportunity for all qualified youth” in the military is thus limited to paper, not only in Nepal but also so-called advanced and egalitarian countries. The trend is for recruitment and promotion of women in armed activities only when there is a severe shortage of male recruits or an urgent need to respond to social pressures.

First of all, military recruitment and promotion policies designed for men do not recognise the ability of women. Nor does the traditional military institution try to identify combat qualities in women, instead choosing to label them ‘peace loving’, ‘emotional’ and ‘weak’ creatures. It is then questioned whether these attributes do not make women ineligible for the use of heavy weapons and for defending the country. Tradition also tries to justify women’s absence in the armed forces in other ways. The military profession is often promoted as a career that jeopardises the reproductive health of women of a child bearing age, discouraging them to start a career in the military. But such logic has been proved unjustified in the changing global context. Nepal itself has a history of women warriors in the Khasa principalities since before the country’s unification.

The women’s perspective on democratisation of the military centres on identifying the gender differences and recognising individual strengths in the course of drafting and implementing military policy. Theoretically, too, the beauty of liberal democracy is to respect and adjust to differentiation, and search for an acceptable option to harness individual characteristics of the two sexes. Thus, it is vital that women’s demands to reshape the military structure, give them the space to project their image, and reform military ethos be accommodated. The process of democratisation must acknowledge this fact while recruiting, grooming, training and promoting personnel.

The institutional structure and environment favourable to females either. The mounting cases of sexual harassment against women in and by security forces also creates doubt whether women, if they themselves feel insecure, can look after the country’s security needs. It thus becomes important to take strong action against sexual abusers in the military. Women occupy no important posts in the defence sector. The numerical strength of females

has been stagnant in the Nepal Army since 2006 in spite of several recruitment drives—and despite the fact that NA has adopted the policy of scaling up the percentage of women soldiers to five percent. Similarly, no woman is included in defence policy making and implementing structures formed after 2006. Women, as such, have very little stake in the field of defence in Nepal.

Women’s leadership in the Ministry of Defence alone does not amount to much as her associates, political leaders and colleagues in parliament, the Cabinet and political parties can hardly be said to be gender sensitive. Such ritualistic participation at the executive level does not even have political significance if women will continue to be excluded and marginalised in ever other sector and level. Hence a collective initiative is required to reconstruct and redefine the role of women in defence. It is possible only through advocacy, research and promotion of women in the Army and defence-related fields. Simultaneously, a debate also has to be initiated on how the participation of women in the armed forces can weaken their deep-rooted masculine institutional character and make them friendly to both genders. Equally important is to recognise women’s potential contribution in combating national threats and promoting peace.

(The author has submitted her Ph.D Thesis ‘Democratizing Nepali Polity: Response of Military’ to Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)




You must be logged in to post a comment.